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Turning theory into practice: Teaching STEM to primary students

08 November 2016

An ACER research review suggests that fundamental STEM skills should be established in primary school and that the most effective way to do this is through an integrated approach to teaching STEM.

An ACER literature review explores science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the primary years. The review, From concept to classroom: Translating STEM education research into practice, by ACER Research Fellow Christine Rosicka, examines a body of research into STEM education to find common threads and seeks to help translate the theory into practical application for implementation by primary teachers.

According to the review, primary school students are beginning to develop a self-belief in their ability as a STEM learner, and an early interest in STEM can be a predictor for later learning and eventual career intentions.

An integrated approach

Allowing students to integrate their knowledge of STEM subjects using real-world problems can help them understand why they are learning STEM subjects and how their knowledge can be applied outside the classroom, according to the review. To this end, there are a number of challenges, competitions and other opportunities are available to schools, such as ACER’s Australian STEM Video Game Challenge.

An integrated approach to STEM learning can also help students develop other skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and self-direction.

Real-world inquiry-based learning allows for reflection and helps to show students that failure is an important part of the learning process. The analysis of failure and a continuous improvement process is important for developing a growth mindset.

The review also notes that young children are naturally curious and inclined to test ideas, which are important attitudes for STEM learning. Students’ ability to evaluate their work and look for improved solutions also develops their critical thinking and the ability to reflect on their actions and learning.

Frameworks for STEM education disciplines have aspects of questioning, evaluating and reviewing, which allow this curiosity to be developed and encouraged. A number of STEM education process frameworks were compared as part of the review.

Professional development

The review found that teachers and schools looking for the best way to build their capacity in STEM education should prioritise professional development, including:

  • employing STEM-specialist teachers and coaches,
  • mentoring by industry STEM professionals,
  • fostering school-based professional learning communities, or
  • offering extended study opportunities such as summer schools. â– 


Read the full report:
From concept to classroom: Translating STEM education research into practice, by Christine Rosicka, ACER (2016).

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